Feb 15, 2014

Planning for Fair Market Pens

For people who like to breed for market pens for fair, there's a good bit of planning that has to go into it.  "When to breed" depends on when your fair is, what the age allowance is, and how long it takes your rabbits to get to the maximum weight limit.

To get that information, check the website for your county's extension office.  Most will have a copy of the premium book (sometimes also called a handbook or catalog) from the most recent fair (if not the upcoming fair).  If you plan to sell to 4-H kids, look at that section.  If you plan on doing your own entry (and aren't a 4-H kid, yourself), look at the Open Class section.  Unfortunately, not all websites are easy to navigate, and not all of them will have the premium book available online.  If that's the case, call the extension office and ask if you can get a copy of last year's (or this year's) premium book.  Or, you can ask for the contact information for the local rabbit club leader.

In our county, the fair auction is the first Saturday in August.  The maximum allowed age is 69 days (other fairs allow up to 70 or even 90 days for fryers; others may also have a class for roasters).  The maximum allowed weight is 5 pounds per fryer (again, other fairs may have other limits).

In order to calculate your breeding date, look at a calendar, starting on your fair date (for me, it's August 2nd).  Count back however many days is the maximum allowed age or when your fryers normally reach the maximum allowed weight, whichever is smallest. (I have some lines that hit 5 lbs closer to 8 or 9 weeks, so 56 to 63 days).  If I'm calculating for maximum age (69 days), I would land on May 25th as the target birthdate.  For my quick-growers, I would get May 31 to June 1 as the target birthdate.

From there, count back how many days your doe normally takes to kindle.  If she's not consistent, go with the shortest term she's had.  If you've never bred her before, go with 28 days, which is the shortest normal term for any rabbit pregnancy.  That way, if she kindles late, you'll still be in range for age, and probably not much shorter on weight.  The alternate case (breeding for her longest pregnancy) could result in the kits being too old for the fair, should she kindle early.  28 days before May 25th is April 27th.


Write that date down on your calendar.  It's often a good idea to put it on an electronic calendar (such as on your phone, or attached to your email) so that you'll get a reminder when it's time to breed.

Once it's on your calendar, you can now see if you have time to breed for one more litter before you breed for fair.  This is especially handy so that you can more accurately predict what weight you'll get from that specific pair of rabbits, provided that you actually have time to let the kits grow out before you need to breed for fair.

Most meat breeds are capable of handling a breed-back schedule as close as 3 weeks after kindling. Of course, the longer you can wait after kindling before breeding, the healthier the doe will stay, and the more litters you can consecutively breed back. Also, remember that you'll want to wean the kits no later than 3 weeks after their dam has been bred back.  So, if you breed back when the kits are 3 weeks old, you'll have to wean them at 6 weeks.

If I were to breed today, the kits would be born some time between March 15th (28 day pregnancy) and March 22nd (35 day pregnancy), which would mean that when I breed for fair, the doe will have been nursing for 34 to 41 days (5 to 6 weeks).  Since I normally wean at 8 weeks, the weaning date wouldn't change, and the doe would still get 1 to 2 weeks of not nursing before she kindles again.

Calculate your breeding dates with this tool.